On May 16th - 20th, 2019, we welcomed 12 international visitors from Europe for an IVLP regional program called “Regional Responses to Refugee and Migration Issues." This program helped our visitors learn more about federal, state, and local government policies & initiatives, as well as inter-governmental action to resettle and integrate refugees who arrive either through US Refugee Resettlement Program or through unofficial channels.
To learn more about refugee and migration issues from face-to-face conversations, our visitors first began with a meeting with officials of the US Department of Homeland Security, Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICC), Homeland Security Investigation (HSI), where they learned about the agency’s role in maintaining border security and explored how they cooperate with other local law enforcement and personnel from other US federal agencies.
On Thursday afternoon, our guests were warmly welcomed as the guests of honor in the SACIV’s annual “Membership Luncheon” event where they met with SACIV members and leaders in the international community. Later that day, they continued their discussion with representatives of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office, where they were presented with an overview of human trafficking in the border area.
San Antonio Police Department once again opened its doors for our international visitors as they discussed the department’s community relationships and explained the reasons behind a long-standing SAPD policy that bars its officers from asking residents about their immigration status or detaining anyone solely on suspicion of being in the United States illegally. The most exciting opportunity for our delegation were the “ride-alongs”, in which the delegation spent time shadowing police officers on duty for the evening as they patrolled the community.
On Friday, the group met with the Colonies North Elementary School, a San Antonio public school providing pre-K to sixth grade classes. It is one of two schools in San Antonio that has been designated a “newcomer” school, meaning that its mission includes providing safe, welcoming educational environment for refugee and immigrant children. Specifically, the administrators and teachers explained the school’s partnership with the local Catholic Charities refugee resettlement program and discussed effective approaches for integrating new and non-English speaking students.
After lunch, they headed to Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together (MATT), a bi-national, citizen-led civil society organization with offices in San Antonio and Mexico City. The Executive Director shared with our delegation their practical work of strengthening cultural and economic links between the United States and Mexico. They were able to explore ideas on how immigration law might be reformed to better align with the realities of how people live and work across the border.
The weekends were quite busy as well. On Saturday IVLP guests experienced the cultural side of San Antonio taking a special guided tour of the five Missions which was lead by a representative of the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions (AIT-SCM). This organization did amazing job presenting their work for the preservation and protection of the culture and traditions of the Native American tribes and other indigenous people of the recently named “UNESCO World Heritage Sites”.
Saturday evening was special for our delegation as they met with SACIV’s members in smaller groups for home hospitality. Each delegate had a face-to-face conversation sharing their experience and thoughts about vital topics of everyday life. Please, see several quotes from our guests below:
“I enjoyed home hospitality very much as it is eye-opening way to peck into the like and thoughts of normal citizen. The generosity and hospitality amazes me every time.” said Mr. Sami Isoniemi of Finland. “It is very interesting to meet people who are not staff members to get a sense of what is going on in the US.” Mr. Hakan Demir, of Germany, reported. Said Ms. Valentina Fabbri of Italy:
“I enjoyed home hospitality a lot, our hosts were very friendly and nice, we had a great discussion.”
On Sunday evening our visitors headed to Laredo, TX to visit civil society organizations and government agencies there.
Monday began with a morning meeting at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) where the group learned about the mission of the largest federal law enforcement agency of the United States, the Department of Homeland Security, as well as about the work the agency does regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. regulations, including trade, customs, and immigration. The visitors carried on their discussion at Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) where they met Maria Eugenia Claderon, Assistant Vice President for Global Initiative. The other great part of this visit was the open conversation with Consul Adscrito Nabor Sergio Luna, Consulate General of Mexico in Laredo, TX. His presentation was vital and clear when he shared his thoughts on the root which causes migration.
Later that day, the group met with Catholic Charities’ representatives in Laredo who shared about their work providing various direct services to individuals and families who live in economically distressed areas. From there, the group went to Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) where they heard about free legal services provided to low-income residents in 68 counties of Southwest Texas. The evening ended with a meeting with representatives from the Laredo Area Foundation.
Our delegates represented nine countries from Western and Eastern Europe and all work on migration issues, therefore every one of their visits were focused on the reality and US experience of facing those challenges every day. The San Antonio Council for International Visitors is very grateful for assistance of every organization involved in conducting these amazing meetings and discussions with our international guests. Thank you for your willingness to make a difference by hosting and sharing your expertise.